On Sunday, 28th September, the eve of the beginning of Celebration of the 90th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Missionary Sisters of St Columban, a very special group of Sisters came to Magheramore. Sister Ann Gray’s words of “Welcome to Religious Sisters of Charity” picks up the story:
“On behalf of my team members, Patricia, Anne and Josephine, it is my great pleasure to welcome you all here today and to give a very special welcome to the Sisters of Charity who have joined us to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Foundation of our Congregation. At a meeting earlier this month Sr Mary Christian and I were chatting about the celebration today and Mary mentioned that next year 92015), the Sisters of Charity would be celebrating 200 years since their foundation and I thought, “We Columbans are just spring chickens in comparison.”
We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Sisters of Charity who in 1922 undertook the work of forming our first postulants and novices. As you know, Mother Mary Aikenhead, the foundress of the Sisters of Charity, centred her spirituality on prayer, obedience and charity, especially to the poor. This found a ready echo in the spirituality and missionary thrust of Fr John Blowick, our Founder. Fr Blowick also recognised the crucial role the Sisters of Charity, and in particular their Superior General, Mother Agnes Gertrude Chamberlain, would play in giving life to the Columban charism.
In delving into extracts of the letters exchanged between Fr Blowick and Mother Agnes Gertrude, it is clear that Fr Blowick was not only fired with zeal to share God’s love with the millions in China, he was also under a lot of pressure from Bishop Galvin, the co-founder with him of the Society of St Columban. In his letter to Mother Agnes Gertrude, he states, “It is difficult for me to convey to anyone who has not been to China the awful need of Sisters there and the untold good they will do for souls and for the expansion of the Church.
In the letters that followed, the strength of character of both Fr Blowick and Mother Agnes Gertrude becomes clear. Fr Blowick was in a great hurry, but Mother Agnes Gertrude without, as she herself said, “pouring cold water” on the project, was, in her wisdom slowing him down. Even when the first group of postulants were ready to enter, she insisted, “It is not right to take more than twelve postulants. It is not like your colleges, where the boys have fine walks around the house and moreover go home twice a year.”
In reading these letters, I have the sense that Fr Blowick and Mother Agnes Gertrude were actually involved in a process of communal discernment, probably unknown to themselves because such a term was not promoted as much as it is these days. They were listening to each other, were open to being influenced by what they heard and gradually the vision was becoming clearer and the first steps were taken in the foundation of the new Congregation.
Fr Blowick was then able to write to Sr Joseph Conception after the first Entrance Day, “I am particularly delighted that the Sisters of Charity consented to undertake the training of the first postulants for us. It is certainly a great relief to us because I know very well that there is no other body of Sisters that could undertake the work with such earnestness and such sympathy as they.”
And your support to us did not end with those early days. In the years that followed, you facilitated the nurses’ training of so many of our Sisters. Sr M. Rosario, herself a native of Foxford, learned the skills of weaving from your Sisters and shared these skills with women in both Korea and China.
And so, just as in our invitation to you we quoted from Sr Ita Hannaway’s book, “September 29 (1924) dawned to find St Brigid’s (in Cahircon, Co. Clare) all in readiness. The Sisters of Charity, unstinting as ever in their dedication, had done everything in their power to ensure that the ceremonies of profession and of the erection of the Congregation would proceed with due solemnity and exactness. This was their day too, the goal of their coming to St. Brigid’s more than two years previously. Although Mother Agnes Chamberlaine had consented to Father Blowick’s request that she allow her Sisters to remain for some further time with the new Congregation, this profession day marked a culmination of effort and a precious milestone in their involvement with the Chinese mission.”
So, Sisters, we appreciate that you are part of our history and our heritage. We do not forget our debt of gratitude to you and we are delighted to have this day to celebrate with you.”
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